Like many people, the idea of where I come from fascinates me. What led us to this point? Similarly, the rise of certain nations and geographies over others also interests me.
During the age of empires, this was largely put down to superior genetics or foreigners being racially inferior. So when Jared Diamond was asked the question by a friend in New Guinea, who certainly wasn’t inferior, he set out to find some answers.
It’s hard to say if his conclusions are true, but many of them certainly passed the smell test. If you believe him, a lot of it simply comes down to being born in the right place. There were certainly a few areas where, despite the endless examples, I’d debate the point (crops being unable to spread north and south and the unsuitability of African mammals to domestication being two).
Regardless of their validity, they certainly opened my eyes to some things I hadn’t considered and made me look at history with fresh eyes. That’s no mean feat.
If I have a criticism it’s that the author spends a lot of time trying to anticipate criticisms and back up everything with example after example after example. After this long, almost everything is speculation.
I found it to be quite a good companion piece to Civilization, with the latter aimed at more recent history, while this book focuses on what allowed the foundations to be built.
It’s perfectly well read, but the quality did seem to fluctuate a bit (a couple of times I thought the reader had changed at the start of a new chapter).
A good and interesting read.
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Audiobook copy of the book
Reviewed: 6th December 2015